Drought and state water utility regulation

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As drought affects parts of the U.S., some state regulators have expressed concerns over whether shortages will cause water supply emergencies for water utilities.  A recent Notice of Inquiry issued by the Maine Public Utilities Commission illustrates one approach to regulation of water supply management.

New England is abnormally dry this fall.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor's National Drought Summary for October 11, 2016, "All areas except extreme northern Maine are now in abnormally dry or drought status. Moderate drought was expanded over eastern New York and Vermont while severe drought was expanded in southern New York and northern New Jersey."

Drought can mean water shortages, both for water utilities and for their customers.  As noted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in an October 5, 2016 Notice of Inquiry into water supply issues, "Some are as of Maine are currently experiencing the impacts of drought. Some of Maine's water systems, which are located in areas where sources of supply are limited , are particularly challenged during dry conditions. In addition to a limited source of supply, some of these systems may also be disproportionately affected by seasonal demands, antiquated infrastructure, and/or high levels of non-revenue water."

As a result, the Commission opened an inquiry "to gather information that will allow it to identify problems which may exist, solicit input on ways to address any problems that are identified, and work collaboratively and proactively with Maine's water utilities and their customers, as well as other State agencies and interested persons and organizations, to develop a plan for addressing the problems that are identified."  The Commission also indicated interest in challenges other than drought that may significantly constrain a utility's source of supply.

The Commission divided its questions into two primary categories.  The first set seeks information to help the Commission to identify current and potential water supply problems and specific solutions to those problems.  These questions relate to recent water supply problems and their impacts, utility responses like voluntary or mandatory conservation measures, and communications with state agencies.

The Commission's second set of questions seeks input on what procedural steps the Commission should take to best address those problems.  This second set focuses on "the extent to which the Commission should be proactively involved in the development of a plan to deal with water supply emergencies and how the Commission should respond when a water supply emergency occurs."
 
The Commission requested that comments and responses be filed in Docket No. 2016-00233 by November 4, 2016.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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